Gallbladder Issues

While it's not necessarily considered to be a complication of childbirth, gallbladder problems can be more common in the days, weeks, and months after having a baby because of hormonal changes that go along with the pregnancy and postpartum period.

The gallbladder stores bile, which helps your body digest fat. High levels of estrogen and progesterone, produced in abundance during pregnancy, can keep the gallbladder from contracting, slow the process of emptying bile from the gallbladder, and can cause gallstones.

An estimated 12 percent of pregnant women develop gallstones, which can necessitate surgery to remove the gallbladder. A gallbladder “attack” can be extremely painful. You would feel it in the upper abdomen, in the back between your shoulder blades, or under your right shoulder. You might also experience nausea, vomiting, or abdominal bloating. The symptoms are often worse or most noticeable after eating a fatty meal.

Prevention

Maintain a healthy weight and eat a high-fiber diet that's reasonably low in fat and cholesterol, and high in antioxidants. Losing or gaining weight too quickly can contribute to gallbladder problems, so take it easy with postpartum weight loss — no more than a pound or two per week. Drink lots of fluids, especially water. Dandelion tea is excellent for nourishing the gallbladder. Also, exercise during pregnancy and, as soon as you're healed enough, postpartum: one study indicated that exercising five times per week for thirty minutes could lead to a one-third reduction in the risk of developing gallstones.

Treatment

Your doctor may recommend medication to break up gallstones. In some instances, surgery will be needed. There are also alternative treatments for gallbladder problems that may work for you. Consult with a naturopath or herbalist if this approach appeals to you. If you experience any of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, pain in your upper abdomen, pain between your shoulder blades, or pain under your right shoulder, call your care provider.

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